24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Video Games

Why couldn't David O. Russell and Sony make it work on 'Uncharted'?

May 26, 2011 |  7:45 pm

  Drake
Whenever the subject of the movie “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” came up with David O. Russell during the last Oscar season, he had one response. He was going. Fast.

"It's a locomotive," the "Fighter" director told 24 Frames in December of his progress on the video game adaptation. "I don't know how to say this except that I feel that I see things much more clearly. I don't turn over an idea as I once would,” he added.

It wasn’t entirely easy to believe. Russell was famously deliberative about his process -- he took six years between completing “I Heart Huckabees” and “The Fighter” -- and he had flirted with “Uncharted” for months before committing, causing film reporters to write a series of hair-pulling stories that had him in one day and out the next.

But Russell was convincing enough in our December interview, especially when he said he had written half the script already and then proceeded to lay out the plot.  (It would be an art-heist movie involving a family of international thieves, using the game as a loose template.)

On Thursday it came to light that Russell wouldn’t direct the action-adventure after all. But that wasn’t, it turned out, because he couldn’t decide what to do. It was because he had steamrolled ahead, but  in a different direction than studio Sony wanted.
 
Russell had already turned in a script, but it was a script so long and so ambitious that it was at least partly responsible for the studio and him parting ways, according to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to talk about it publicly. (Sony declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Russell.)

Among the many flourishes Russell had added were a bevy of characters not in the video game. (The director had given hints of this in December when he said he loved the idea of a “a family that's a force to be reckoned with in the world of international art and antiquities ... [a family] that deals with heads of state and heads of museums and metes out justice.” The game centers on a lone adventurer, Nathan Drake.)

Without having read Russell's script, it’s hard to know whether this divorce is good or bad news for the film, though "Uncharted" fans skeptical of Russell and his choice of Mark Wahlberg for Nathan Drake probably have their own opinions. The studio still wants to make the movie, and will bring on a new writer and director to work off an earlier draft (written by the scribes of the upcoming "Conan the Barbarian"). It's not expected that Wahlberg, who had been Russell's choice, will star in the film (allowing fans to begin their drumbeat for Nathan Fillion again). It's also hard to imagine that the movie will come out next summer, as some fans had hoped.

Russell, meanwhile, has plenty of other options, many of them promising and most of them not in the summer-action vein. There's  a Russ Meyer biopic, a teacher drama called "The Silver Linings Playbook" with Bradley Cooper and Anne Hathaway, and a traveling salesman dramedy with Vince Vaughn and Chloe Moretz.

But more than any individual director choice, there's perhaps a bigger lesson in the Russell-"Uncharted" saga.

While studios in this post-Chris Nolan era like to make some of their biggest movies with top-flight auteurs, the marketing-driven nature of the studio system, and the fussiness of said directors, means the reality can't always match that ambition.  Darren Aronofsky and Fox couldn’t make it work on “Wolverine,” and Sony and Steven Soderbergh clashed on "Moneyball" in a way that led the studio to pull the plug on on the film just days before the cast  and crew were due to arrive on set.

All these pairings would have been interesting, and then some. But given the state of the movie business these days, inserting a rare part into the studio machine often doesn't make for a locomotive. It just causes the train to sputter.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 Photo: A shot from the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune video game. Credit: Sony


Lara Croft and 'Tomb Raider' look to get back to the big screen (again)

March 7, 2011 |  7:00 pm

1

“Tomb Raider” remains among the most popular video games in history. But is there room for another movie?

Graham King, the producer behind hits “The Departed” and “The Town,” will take another crack with Lara Croft. The producer announced Monday that his GK Films has acquired “Tomb Raider” movie rights from game company Square Enix. King aims to have a new film about the artifact-hunting heroine in theaters within two years. No writer or director has yet been hired.

It's not the first time a "Tomb Raider" reboot has been attempted. Warner Bros. and "Sherlock Holmes" producer Dan Lin began developing a new version of the game in 2009, when the studio had acquired a stake in game publisher Eidos, which has since been acquired by Japanese video game publisher Square Enix. The idea at the time was to revamp the character in a new way, reimagining her origins and beefing up her love interest.

But the film didn't get off the ground, and rights reverted from Lin and Warner Bros. to Square Enix.

Since the original video game came out in 1996, "Tomb Raider" and its eight sequels have sold  35 million copies around the world. A new sequel is scheduled to be released this year.

Paramount Pictures released two “Tomb Raider” films, helping make a star out of Angelina Jolie. The first film, 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” grossed more than $270 million worldwide, and the 2003 sequel “Lara Croft Tomb  Raider: The Cradle of Life” grossed more than $156 million worldwide.

--John Horn

Photo: A scene from the "Tomb Raider" video game. Credit: Eidos

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Dead Island publisher: We haven't sold rights for a Dead Island movie -- but we are talking to name directors

February 22, 2011 |  7:46 pm

Deadi
Few trailers in any entertainment medium have gripped the Internet the way the trailer for the zombie video game Dead Island did last week. So feverish was the reaction that a number of stories claimed that a set of Hollywood producers had bought film rights that the game's publisher, which controls those rights, said they never bought.

We caught up with Malte Wagener, the Munich-based head of global business development for said publisher -- Koch Media and its Deep Silver label -- to find out exactly what was happening on the movie front. Will Dead Island, which comes out as a game later this year, become a film, and what shape will it take if it does? Read on...
 
24 Frames: The Internet was abuzz this past weekend that that you had sold Dead Island film rights to 'Mummy' producer Sean Daniel and the financier Union Entertainment. Did you?

Malte Wagener: There are a lot of different stories out there but the bottom line is that neither Union nor Sean Daniel has ever talked to Koch Media. Richard [Leibowitz, of Union] and [game developer] Techland agree there was never any rights. There was some misrepresentation on Techland's part about what rights they have and what they can organize, but Richard confirmed in an e-mail that these were just talks and he doesn't have the rights. [Leibowitz declined comment.] To be honest, I'm surprised that someone of Richard's caliber would even go out there and say this, if he did say it.

So where does that leave a Dead Island movie?

MW:  We've had a lot of inquiries, not only from Union but from other major players for film adaptation. The talks are very early and there's no deal whatsoever. Right now I'd say it boils down to three or four opportunities. Some are studios, not just bonders [financiers] like Union. We'd rather go with a big studio that can bring the creative side.

Do you have firm studio offers, and what do they look like?

MW: We had a couple of big-name directors come to us. One of the top directors in Hollywood sent a studio his link to the trailer and said he was interested in this, and the studio contacted us. There are different opinions of course in how to do this. The first is that you find a producer and then he brings in a creative team. The other is to find a director first and he'll bring people along. My feeling is we should find a director first.

Would casting be a key component of a Dead Island film?

Continue reading »

'Dead Island' movie rights -- Whose are they anyway?

February 21, 2011 |  2:20 pm

  Deadisl
First comes the viral sensation, then comes the legal muddle. After the Wrap and other news outlets reported on Friday that film rights to the upcoming "Dead Island" had been sold to "The Mummy" producer Sean Daniel and his partner at production company Union Entertainment, along came the publisher of the video game to dispute a sale.

The Wrap report cited a long-sealed deal for movie rights to the upcoming zombie video game, the trailer for which has become an overnight Web sensation. "Producer Sean Daniel and Union Entertainment are sitting on the rights to one of the hottest properties on the Internet: the video game 'Dead Island,' " the Wrap wrote. The company had been "tracking the game's development for several years, and acquired rights to it in 2009," the story said.

But over the weekend the game's publisher, Deep Silver, issued a press release, which first appeared on the gaming site IGN, that suggested that no deal is currently in place.

"Deep Silver has received a massive amount of interest in the film adaptation rights to the Dead Island IP [intellectual property]," read the statement. "Contrary to rumors that have been circulating, neither the film rights nor any other licenses have yet been sold by Deep Silver, which is the sole IP holder of the Dead Island brand."

It continued with  a quote from Klemens Kundratitz, CEO of Deep Silver's parent company Koch Media, that suggested rights were very much in play. "We are looking for quality above all else for a movie based on Dead Island. We want to do it the right way as film realizations of games (or vice versa) usually fail to deliver what the fans were looking for. We will not go down this route with Dead Island. Deep Silver profoundly believes in the quality and value of its Dead Island IP."

And then, in what can be read as either a nod to or swipe at Daniel (who also produced "The Wolf Man"), Kundratitz added, "We would therefore be honored to work with someone who already has a proven track record with blockbuster movies."

Reached at his office Monday, Union Entertainment CEO Richard Leibowitz was tight-lipped. "It's not something I'd like to get into," he replied several times, first when asked if his company and Daniel's held the rights and then if there was a legal dispute that was ongoing. Daniel did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. A call to Deep Silver was not immediately returned.

More as it develops.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Dead Island." Credit: Deep Silver

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Will 'Dead Island' make a good movie?

February 18, 2011 |  8:46 pm

Deadi
When we wrote this week that someone in Hollywood should drop what they're doing and develop "Dead Island" as a feature little did we -- or anyone else -- realize that someone was already doing that.

The Wrap reported today that "The Mummy" producer Sean Daniel is part of a group that acquired rights to the as-yet-unreleased video game  back in 2009.

The trailer is, by almost every online account, among the best in years of any medium (a rare case of nearly everyone on the Interwebs actually agreeing). So there's a lot of hope that the aesthetic on display in the trailer could be turned into a great film. (You can watch the trailer again here.)

Daniel is, incidentally, a producer of some pedigree. Although he's known mostly as a commercial genre producer (he does, unfortunately, count the flop that is "The Wolf Man" as a credit) he also showed a different side with seminal slacker film "Dazed and Confused."

But to capitalize on the strengths of the trailer, he and his Union Entertainment partners will need to bring in not just writers and directors capable of telling a good zombie story, but creators with a soulful sensibility, which is what makes the trailer so heart-shatteringly great in the first place.

An even bigger question is whether this small gem can be made better when it's made bigger.  As strong as the "Dead Island" trailer is, it's a zombie mood piece. That works in three minutes, but will lose its impact in 100 minutes. Making "Dead Island" work as a movie will require extrapolating from a series of fight scenes full-bodied characters and story lines -- without losing what made some of those fight scenes special in the first place.

And then there's the biggest question of all:  Once you do make a "Dead Island" movie, how do you possibly cut a trailer for it?

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: 'Dead Island.' Credit: Deep Silver.


Dead Island: The best trailer in years? [Video]

February 16, 2011 |  7:28 pm

Movie studios spend millions of dollars every year trying to get us to pay attention to their upcoming films by carefully cutting and distributing trailers. But for all the money and time spent, sometimes the most compelling cinematic material doesn't come from the studios at all.

That's what this fan-made trailer for "The Expendables" proved last year. And on Thursday, when a trailer for a previously little-known video game titled Dead Island started blowing up Twitter, it seemed to happen again. (The game is being developed by Techland and will be published by Deep Silver; there was no release date coming into Wednesday, but we have a feeling that will change pretty soon.)

The trailer, as you'll see below, is a marvelously ambitious work, essentially a short film in all but name. It takes a melancholy piano score and runs it under a battle between a family on vacation and the zombies who have taken over their resort. Apart from the piece's sharp visual style and emotional impact (the father-daughter moment at the end is heartbreaking), the most impressive aspect may be the trailer's structure. It's tough enough to weave in elegant flash-forwards and flashbacks in a full-length feature; the "Dead Island" trailer does it all in about three minutes.

One can only hope one of the zombie movies that studios have in the works is half as good. Or, better yet, someone in Hollywood should drop whatever branded reboot they're working on and develop this as a film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

No way: David O. Russell now back with 'Drake's Fortune'

October 8, 2010 |  6:09 pm

Drake
EXCLUSIVE: There have been so many twists and turns on the "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" directing saga that it's hard to believe it's really near resolution -- let alone that it's going to be a quirky auteur such as David O. Russell who takes the reins.

But several sources familiar with the director search process say the "Three Kings" filmmaker is now in final negotiations to direct the movie based on on the popular video game. This comes after he had broken off talks and parted ways with producers and studio Sony as recently as August.

The imminent deal means that a man known for the dark comedy of "Flirting With Disaster" and the  grittiness of the upcoming "The Fighter" would take on the effects-driven, action-adventure of the Sony-published "Fortune," in which a descendant of Sir Francis Drake fights his way to treasure and romance on a mysterious island. [Update, Friday 10:38 p.m., Sony has now confirmed that Russell is on board, saying he will write a new draft of the script as well.]

It also means that we would have a new commitment for a director known for an, er, exacting attitude on matters creative; among other examples, you may remember that earlier this year he pulled his name off the troubled production "Nailed."

Russell's schedule is now gaining a little clarity. He recently opted not to pursue the director's chair on the cover-band comedy "Under Cover" with Jim Carrey. Russell does have another development project close to his heart in Vince Vaughn vehicle "Spirit of St. Louis" -- and that one, unlike "Drake's Fortune," is mostly cast.

So "Fortune" may not be his next movie. But Sony is keen on the "Fortune" script, penned by the writers who worked on "Cowboys & Aliens." And the studio could use a big  2012 release, especially one in the vein of "Pirates of the Caribbean." Let the auteur-goes-tentpole stories begin (again).

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: The video game of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment

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'Kane & Lynch' struggles to break out of jail

September 24, 2010 |  7:38 pm

Lync
EXCLUSIVE: It's hardly an understatement that movies based on video games have had a shaky time out in the marketplace.

Now a new one is having a hard time getting out of the gate.

"Kane & Lynch" seemed like a slam dunk by film-development standards. But uncertainty is mounting for the project. 

Based on the popular third-person multi-platform shooter from Eidos Interactive, the movie sported a commercial premise, telling the story of two death row inmates who break out of jail and embark on a big bank job. The project had also attracted the attention of a number of buzzed-about directors. A second "Kane & Lynch" video game had studios seeing franchise.

And, not insignificantly, Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx were on board for the title roles.

The movie from Avi Lerner's Nu Image/Millennium and Lionsgate (the former is financing, the latter distributing domestically), seemed all ready to start shooting next month, with French up-and-comer Patrick Alessandrin (District 13: Ultimatum") preparing to direct.

But the latest turn has Alessandrin has fallen off the film, according to several sources familiar with the project, forcing producers to go back to the drawing board. "Running Scared" helmer Wayne Kramer and "Italian Job" director F. Gary Gray, who at various points were in talks to take the directing reins, are now back in the mix. Producers are also talking to Antoine Fuqua, who collaborated with Millennium on the crime drama "Brooklyn's Finest." But no deal has been struck.

Maybe most important, a planned start date for October has been pushed. The movie is not likely to start production until the first quarter of 2011 at the earliest.

Officials at Lionsgate and Millennium could not immediately be reached for comment. [Update, Saturday 4:24 p.m.: A Millennium spokeswoman says that "the director has not been chosen" and that a "start date is TBD."]

Some Hollywood executives continue to maintain that video games are a fertile source of development. After all, most games have brand recognition and a dramatic arc, two coveted traits for any film project. (Indeed, the "Resident Evil" and "Lara Croft" franchises have demonstrated the axiom. The former has shown surprising box office life with its latest installment, which is headed for a $200 million take internationally.)

But the difficulties in translating a story form one medium to another has more often than not proved difficult. It's  why movies such as "Prince of Persia" and "Max Payne" have been misses with both fans and a broader audience.

Things may yet turn around. But “Kane & Lynch” is the latest piece of evidence that it probably won’t happen quickly or cleanly.

--Steven Zeitchik and Ben Fritz

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Kane & Lynch. Credit: Eidos Interactive

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David O. Russell won't find gold with 'Drake's Fortune'

August 3, 2010 |  2:31 pm

Drake
Video game junkies and fans of throwback adventures might have been at the very least amused, if not intrigued, by the idea of David. O. Russell taking on "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune."

As we wrote in May, the auteur was being considered for the director's chair on the Sony video game adaptation, which would have offered the prospect of the man who gave us the dark comedy of "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting with Disaster" rolling his sleeves up on material that had a lot in common with "Romancing the Stone" and the Indiana Jones franchise. (The game is about a descendant of Sir Francis Drake fighting his way to treasure and romance on a mysterious island.)

In the last few weeks, Russell, the studio and producers (Charles Roven of "The Dark Knight" fame is one) had been negotiating for  Russell to come aboard. But the parties haven't been able to come to terms so they're going their separate ways, sources say. Producers and the studio are going back to the drawing board. They'll look for a new director -- and first they may even look for a star or two to join the project. (With the male and female co-leads, it's essentially a two-hander, so expect the casting process to be involved.)

What all this means is that even the faintest hopes that "Fortune" could be a 2011 movie -- Sony at one point had even thought about fast-tracking it for a release next summer --- have been extinguished. The studio wasn't immediately available for comment.

Russell, who recently walked away from the stop-and-start production drama of indie dark comedy "Nailed," has no hard greenlight for a new movie but does have a few projects in the hopper, including a dramedy with Vince Vaughn about a traveling salesman and his daughter, "Old St. Louis," that he's eager to get made and which could soon move forward. As for those trying to make a movie about treasure-seeking adventurers, they'll need to keep looking.

--Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A screen shot from 'Drake's Fortune.' Credit: Sony

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Jerry O'Flaherty's samurai maneuver

June 17, 2010 |  4:54 pm

Every week, it seems, comes another cool/interesting short in Hollywood, usually as the project begins to make the rounds to studios. The latest to go viral is this film, from video game director Jerry O'Flaherty (he's the art director responsible for the sophisticated look of "Gears of War"). Unlike some of the other shorts, which were made on a lark and then were developed into features, O'Flaherty made this film as a sort of teaser for a project he's about to shop.

There's not a lot of narrative, but it still has style to burn, a kind of high-octane, sleekly produced samurai picture (made, apparently, for a very small budget). And it already has a solid writer on board, "Number 23" scribe Fernley Phillips, as well as veteran producers State Street and Blacklight Entertainment. Check it out and let us know what you think. Shorts-into-features is starting to become a rather persistent trend in Hollywood, but hey, at least they're not remakes.

SAMURAI from Jerry O'Flaherty on Vimeo.


--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


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